A RECENT inspection of the Punjab Medical Store Depot stocks in Lahore has revealed that an expensive drug purchased in 2016/2017 to treat 5,000 patients suffering from both HIV/AIDS and hepatitis ‘C’ in the province is past its expiry date. The stock could have been used to treat 1,800 patients. Also, the inspectors did not find any record of the drug dispensed to 3,200 patients. By default, the inspection report highlights the faulty mechanism of drug procurement, storage and dispensation by the provincial government for free-of-cost distribution to patients registered with its hospitals. It isn’t for the first time that the ‘surplus’ procurement of a drug has been reported. A couple of months ago, it was found that the health authorities had bought a medicine for treating hepatitis ‘C’ in larger-than-required quantities. The matter came to light when provincial hospitals’ managements told the authorities that they would not be able to use the stocks before the expiry date next year.
The centralised procurement of drugs is a complex process for which government agencies are not trained as it involves assessment of the right quantities of a drug and the selection of reliable suppliers to provide quality products at the lowest possible prices. Some previous studies have found existing rules and regulations, procedures, as well as institutional structures to be inadequate, and have suggested reforms for the efficient, cost-effective purchase, storage and dispensation of medicines to patients at state-run hospitals. The absence of efficient procurement procedures and accountability of officials responsible for wasting taxpayers’ money mean that those involved in the bulk purchase of medicines for government hospitals can access loopholes to make money out of deals with suppliers. Unless efficient procedures are in place to select cost-effective drugs, quantify the actual needs, pre-select potential suppliers, ensure quality, and monitor the entire procurement system, it would be impossible to stop the wastage of already meagre financial resources allocated for providing free medicine to poor patients — and to plug the loopholes that lead to corruption.
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2019